The Celebrification of the White House Staff

Ronald Reagan’s former chief of staff says serving as the president’s right-hand man isn’t the job it used to be.

In this photo provided by the White House, President Ronald Reagan meets with outgoing Chief of Staff Howard Baker, left, and incoming Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, right, in the Oval Office, June 14, 1988.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Sept. 16, 2013, 1:02 p.m.

We’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to the celebri­fic­a­tion of the White House staff. We read about their birth­days in Play­book, their mar­riages in The New York Times and even what shoes they wear in — wait for it — The Wash­ing­ton Post.

But Ken Duber­stein, formerly chief of staff to Ron­ald Re­agan, says work­ing in the White House was once a much more be­hind-the-scenes kind of job. Par­tic­u­larly for the White House chief of staff.

“The job has grown,” he said, “not ne­ces­sar­ily in stature, be­cause all your power is de­riv­at­ive and it’s in­side, but in the sense of the pub­lic pro­file. Back in my day, the White House chief of staff had a pas­sion for an­onym­ity.”

His com­ments to Na­tion­al Journ­al came shortly after cur­rent White House Chief of Staff Denis Mc­Donough took to the air­waves to make the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s case for a Syr­ia strike, ap­pear­ing on five ma­jor Sunday-morn­ing talk shows in ad­vance of Pres­id­ent Barack Obama’s prime-time ad­dress last Tues­day. Mc­Donough served as a fig­ure­head for Obama, mak­ing the case that the U.S. needs to help en­force the in­ter­na­tion­al pro­hib­i­tion against chem­ic­al weapons by tak­ing ac­tion against Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad.

That kind of blanket me­dia ap­pear­ance con­trasts with how a chief of staff would act in Duber­stein’s day. “You were work­ing there on be­half of the pres­id­ent,” he said. “You didn’t have 10 people or 15 people on your staff. It was you and the staff co­ordin­at­or. Now it has be­come an in­sti­tu­tion.”

Duber­stein was speak­ing to Na­tion­al Journ­al from the red car­pet screen­ing of The Pres­id­ents’ Gate­keep­ers, the newly re­leased doc­u­ment­ary based on in­ter­views with all 20 of the liv­ing White House chiefs of staff.

Al­though the doc­u­ment­ary, which premiered Wed­nes­day on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel, nev­er settles on a single nar­rat­ive about how the role of White House staff has evolved, at­tendees at last week’s premiere had some ideas of their own.

Reg­gie Love, the 31-year-old former per­son­al aide to Pres­id­ent Obama, told Na­tion­al Journ­al the only change in White House staff he’d no­ticed had more to do with something else: “The only thing I no­ticed that was very dif­fer­ent was that I was the only Afric­an-Amer­ic­an.”

What We're Following See More »
FIRST WOMAN NOMINATED BY MAJOR PARTY
Hillary Clinton Accepts the Democratic Nomination for President
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"It is with humility, determination, and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president," said Hillary Clinton in becoming the first woman to accept a nomination for president from a major party. Clinton gave a wide-ranging address, both criticizing Donald Trump and speaking of what she has done in the past and hopes to do in the future. "He's taken the Republican party a long way, from morning in America to midnight in America," Clinton said of Trump. However, most of her speech focused instead on the work she has done and the work she hopes to do as president. "I will be a president of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. For the struggling, the striving, the successful," she said. "For those who vote for me and for those who don't. For all Americans together."

COUNTER-CHANTS AT THE READY
Protesters Make Good on Threat to Disrupt Speech
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Supporters of Bernie Sanders promised to walk out, turn their backs, or disrupt Hillary Clinton's speech tonight, and they made good immediately, with an outburst almost as soon as Clinton began her speech. But her supporters, armed with a handy counter-chant cheat sheet distributed by the campaign, immediately began drowning them out with chants of "Hillary, Hillary!"

SUFFOLK POLL
New Survey Shows Clinton Up 9 in Pennsylvania
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

If a new poll is to be believed, Hillary Clinton has a big lead in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania. A new Suffolk University survey shows her ahead of Donald Trump, 50%-41%. In a four-way race, she maintains her nine-point lead, 46%-37%. "Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, going back to Bill Clinton’s first win in 1992. Yet it is a rust belt state that could be in play, as indicated by recent general-election polling showing a close race."

Source:
THREE NIGHTS RUNNING
Democrats Beat Republicans in Convention Ratings So Far
14 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Wednesday was the third night in a row that the Democratic convention enjoyed a ratings win over the Republican convention last week. Which might have prompted a fundraising email from Donald Trump exhorting supporters not to watch. "Unless you want to be lied to, belittled, and attacked for your beliefs, don't watch Hillary's DNC speech tonight," the email read. "Instead, help Donald Trump hold her accountable, call out her lies and fight back against her nasty attacks."

Source:
SHIFT FROM ROMNEY’S NUMBERS
Catholics, Highly Educated Moving Toward Dems
17 hours ago
THE LATEST

Catholics who attend mass at least weekly have increased their support of the Democratic nominee by 22 points, relative to 2012, when devout Catholics backed Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, a Morning Consult poll shows that those voters with advanced degrees prefer Hillary Clinton, 51%-34%. Which, we suppose, makes the ideal Clinton voter a Catholic with a PhD in divinity.

×